Bill OK'd to Loosen Rules on Colleges

Article excerpt

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

SALEM - The University of Oregon and the state's six other public universities would gain more autonomy and have more control over their own finances under a bill passed Monday by the Oregon House.

Senate Bill 242, approved on a 55-5 vote, would allow universities to hold onto the interest earned on student tuition, as well as use their own funds to buy property and build facilities without requiring legislative approval, among other changes.

Currently, the Legislature caps public universities' expenditures in its higher education budget and appropriates tuition interest dollars - expected to amount to about $7 million over the next two years - to cover other general fund expenses.

The state Department of Administrative Services and Department of Justice also have a great deal of oversight with regard to many day-to-day operations at Ore gon's universities.

Proponents say SB 242 does away with much of that bureaucratic "red tape" by allowing the Oregon University System to no longer be classified as a state agency, thereby freeing public universities from numerous state agency regulations.

"Universities will no longer be treated the same as the DMV or the Department of Corrections," said Rep. Tobias Read, a Beaverton Democrat. "No longer would Portland State University need the help of the Department of Justice to get an attorney, to help with a variance, to build a building. No longer would Oregon State University need the Department of Administrative Services' permission to fix a roof on a residence hall."

SB 242 would also create the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, a 15-member body that would oversee both public universities and community colleges and coordinate the state's higher education goals.

"This bill will allow us to fight the fragmentation that exists in Oregon education," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat. "The gaps that currently exist between community colleges and universities will begin to close."

To keep institutions of higher education accountable, the bill includes an agreement that the Legislature will work with the coordinating commission in the future to set specific educational quality goals, such as higher graduation rates. …